19 Jul 2015

Mini Reviews 19/07/2015

We may not have time to review every book on our pull-lists but we do aim to provide a snapshot of what's been released over the past week, encompassing the good, the bad, and those that lie somewhere in between.

Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Brent Schoonover, Roman Rosanas & Jordan Boyd
Marvel $4.99

Stewart R: Oh, looky here: a fortuitous Ant-Man Annual appears for the first time on comic book shelves coincidentally in the same week that a blockbuster movie featuring the character hits screens around the globe!...*cough*...*cough...*CASH-IN!!*...excuse me! So yeah, this is a thing that happened and it's a five dollar book to boot. Now, having seen the film - and of course our spoiler-free review can be found here - and been picking up Nick Spencer's series since it launched earlier this year, I'm fully engaged in the printed stories of Scott Lang. I'm glad that Spencer keeps things linked to Lang's recent Miami-based exploits early on, keeping the reformed villain cast around for some fun dialogue before delving into the more one-shot side of this annual. We essentially get a look at the 616 Universe relationship between Hank Pym and Scott Lang, the personality faults and folly of the former and the lingering questions surrounding his connections and choice to pass the mantle onto the latter. While the flashback adventure is quite throwaway, and not exactly oozing with menace or threat, it does highlight just how different the two Ant-Men are and when we're transported back to the present and the fallout for Lang we find Spencer at his best once again, selling the consequences of life decisions with a black-comedy realism that hits the heart in a way other Marvel books don't and continues to set the Ant-Man title as an alternative to the traditional superhero book. Of course, this one-shot probably won't contribute a great deal to Scott Lang's ongoing adventures - and isn't essential reading from my perspective - but it does also offer the introduction of a new character we may be seeing more of soon to sweeten the deal if you might be interested. 7/10

Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: David Aja & Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel $4.99

Matt C: People will gripe about the delays, and they have valid points, but when you’re presented with issue like this, those points all become moot. Sure, the momentum has been lost, but it's surprisingly easy to re-engage with the narrative thanks in no small part to David Aja’s astonishing examples of visual dynamism that make the entire experience an immersive joy. Fraction shows us he has complete control of the quirky, vibrant interplay between the characters but it’s Aja’s artistic acrobatics that really sell this issue as a lively reminder of why this series was so treasured. Seriously, every panel is rendered to pop art perfection, and whatever this guy does next, he already has my money, because he easily ranks with very best in the medium! The long wait between the final few issues won’t matter when this is sat as a hardcover on your shelf, and it deserves a place there because it is one for the ages. 9/10

James R: All good things must come to an end. After numerous setbacks (so many in fact, the Marvel Universe this book is set it no longer exists!) the final issue of Hawkeye is with us. I know that for a lot of people this was a epoch-making title, and one that has as many fanatical devotees as I have ever seen in comics fandom. I've been a fan of the book (and I used the immaculate 'Pizza Dog' issue to illustrate to some of my students how effective and creative comics can be as a medium) but I don't love it as passionately as I do, say Mind MGMT. As a consequence, this finale didn't pull on my heartstrings so much. I found it a fine closing chapter, and a neat denouement, but after such delay some of it's punch was lessened, and given the time and expertise setting up the supporting cast of the book, we're denied fitting conclusions for some of them. Don't be mistaken into thinking I didn't enjoy this - it's easily my book of the week - it's just that after those delays, and the heights of what went before, I just found this a perfunctory rather than an explosive finale. A salute to Matt Fraction, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth though - this will surely go down as one of the all-time great Marvel runs. 8/10

Writer: Al Ewing
Art: Alan Davis, Mark Farmer & Wil Quintana
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: I picked this one up on a whim, largely due to it being a quiet week but also because it features art from one of the all-time greats, Alan Davis. With zero expectations I found this to be hugely enjoyable addition to the burgeoning set of Secret Wars tie-in series I've picked up of late. It zeroes on a region where Tony Stark sacrificed himself to save Ho Yinsen, not the other way round, and how the arrival of a mysterious stranger in Yinsen City sets off a series of events that leads the peaceful inhabitants into a confrontation with the neighbouring domain, Mondo City, where Bosses dispense justice with extreme prejudice. Writer Al Ewing cut his teeth in the pages of 2000 AD so, while unexpected, bringing in an analogue of Mega City One and the Judges feels natural and works surprisingly well. Davis and his long-time colourist companion Mark Farmer are master craftsmen, and even at this stage in their long careers they continue deliver some exceptional work. It may have initially looked like it was one of the lesser entries into the ‘Battleworld’ crossover, but as it turns out, it’s one of the best so far. 8/10

Writer: James Stokoe
Art: James Stokoe
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: Being a James Stokoe comic book I was going to pick this up regardless, and his brilliant work on Godzilla: Half Century War showed just how well he can handle the famous kaiju in the printed form. The big difference for Godzilla In Hell is the lack of a protagonist to witness Godzilla's adventure and offer us a separate analysis of events. This is an entirely speechless (though not wordless surprisingly!) issue which has the familiar grand behemoth dropped into the bowels of Hell and then confronted by a myriad of demonic spawn to test his mettle. Stokoe is a master of scale and his depiction of the brimstone-based battles are accomplished, but maybe not quite up there with his work from G: HCW. The beasties Godzilla faces are great creations though and there's something of variety to the way in which they're tackled, though our monstrous lizard friend only has so many tactics and skills up his (tiny) sleeves. The overriding feeling is that everything is over in an instant though - primarily down to the lack of dialogue or narration - and with little explanation as to why Godzilla is in Hell or a tease of when (or if) we'll find out, there's not much compelling me to stick around through three more issues with different creative teams to find out. 6/10

Writer: Ivan Brandon
Art: Nic Klien
Image $3.50

James R: Please excuse the terrible wordplay, but Drifter is beginning to float aimlessly. After a mesmerising start, beautifully illustrated by Nic Klien, the end of the first arc was a somewhat underwhelming event (to the extent that I had to go and dig out issue #5 to remind myself of what happened - never the best portent for a monthly series). Issue #6 sees Abram Pollux take a crew from the town to the previously-unseen dark side of the planet Ouro to find...well, that will no doubt all be explained in good time. For me, the issue with Drifter is that there is mystery heaped upon mystery - call it the 'Lost effect'. It still looks beautiful, and it's certainly a compelling book, but at the moment it's such a slow burn, and there's still so much that remains opaque about the plot, it's difficult to really love it. I'll certainly give it a couple more issues, but I'm hoping for a little more punch, and a little less sleight of hand. 6/10

Writer: Robert Venditti
Art: Robert Gill, Doug Braithwaite, David Baron & Brian Reber
Valiant Entertainment $3.99

Stewart R: It's time once again for Valiant to bring its event-sized focus around to bear on a four part miniseries and Book Of Death follows right on the heels of the very impressive The Valiant series. The Eternal Warrior, Gilad, is on the run with his newest Geomancer protege, Tama, whilst his Unity friends seek him out, believing a spate of terrible massacres are directly linked to his activities. Venditti sets the scene well with the Wyoming tragedy giving us a glimpse of the horrific stakes at hand and pushing MI-6 onto a path of direct conflict with their long term ally. Considering what everyone went through during the recent attack of the Immortal Enemy I'm not fully convinced that Unity's response is fully believable, but aside from that the glimpse into the tumultuous future lying ahead for the planet and its heroes, rendered in accomplished style by Doug Braithwaite, my interest in Book Of Death is fully cemented, even if I don't completely understand what I'm seeing or recognise the characters involved yet. 7/10

Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Roland Boschi & Chris Chuckry
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: As this is Rick Remender’s last work for Marvel for the time being, I did think it had a good chance of being one of the best to spin out of Secret Wars. However, while most of the tie-in books so far haven’t relied too heavily on what preceded them (and were therefore fine ‘jumping on points’, so to speak) this leads more directly out of the events in Remender’s Captain America series. Having not read that, I felt a little behind in what was going on, or at least what was going on in the mind of protagonist Ian Rogers aka Nomad. It’s an okay riff on various futuristic, totalitarian tropes, and the art’s solid, but it's simply not the most welcoming for those not familiar with the central character’s recent history (or, for that matter, the central character full stop!). As such, if I do pick up the rest of the series, it’ll more than likely be in the bargain boxes of some convention in the next year or so. 6/10

Writer: Alan Moore
Art: Gabriel Andrade & Digikore Studios
Avatar $3.99

James R: You don't expect a happy ending in a Crossed series, and following last issue's revelation that Beauregard Salt's semi-civilised offspring were planning an assault on Chooga, well, you can't hope for much. Moore saves one final twist for this issue, revealing that one of the non-infected humans has been a plant all along, but then we're denied a real finale. Because this is now going to be an ongoing series, Taylor and Kriswyczki's escape felt all too predictable, and the nihilistic edge that Moore had sharpened so well over the course of the six issues was somewhat blunted. As always, kudos goes to Moore for finding a fresh take on well-mined trope, but now he's done here, so am I - there's only so many mindless violent massacres I can enjoy in a year! 7/10

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